Christmas sure came early this year! Swiss ambient black metal enigma Wintherr is back in black (and white and gray) with his 10th (!) full-length demo release Das Tor under the Paysage d’Hiver moniker, and it greets you like a hug from an old friend. For those already familiar with Wintherr’s aesthetic approach of making frigid black metal that was likely recorded with an 8-track in the middle of a blizzard, you can stop reading here and fire up the cassette deck, because Das Tor makes no changes to the sound Wintherr has perfected over the last 15 years. All you need to know, dear reader, is that it slays and deserves all 80 minutes of your attention.
For the uninitiated, be forewarned: Wintherr has made a career with Paysage (and his other, equally awesome band, Darkspace) by making black metal that takes “lo-fi” to an insane extreme, and Das Tor is no different. Like other Paysage releases, Das Tor has a beautifully simple modus operandi, and that is to create a black metal tribute to cold, Northern winters. He uses the typical tools of the black metal trade – buzzsaw tremolo guitars, monotonous programmed drums, sordid shrieks and forlorn synths – but Wintherr liberally uses Occam’s Razor to pare the black metal formula into a sound that is singular, unchangeable and gorgeously simple. Das Tor is a monolith of hypothermic black metal that’s savage and sublime in equal measure – much like the very nature of the coldest of seasons that Paysage d’Hiver is so stubbornly devoted to.
The record splits a numbing 80 minute running time between four tracks, and as is befitting the monochrome nature of winter, they are markedly minimalistic. Wintherr is certainly a student of the Burzum school of atmospheric black metal, stretching out a handful of riffs over long stretches of time (in this case, no shorter than 15 minutes per track) with the intention of creating a trance-like atmosphere. This is no Filosofem clone, however – crawling, de-tuned open chords that may have been doom metal riffs in another life worm their way into the songs and add a palpable sense of menace that’s unique to Paysage d’Hiver, and are especially prominent in Das Tor.
Tracks like “Offenbarung” blur the listener’s senses with guitars that in truth don’t really play riffs as much as they create a heart-stopping, senses-blurring whiteout of sound. Respite is only offered in the form of desolate synth-choirs and actual wind samples that often run for a couple of minutes at a time (disclaimer: final track “Schluessel” caps off its 23 minute running time with seven full minutes of it). “Macht des Schicksals,” while gorgeously rendered, is injected with a creeping, visceral sense of dread that permeates the entire album. Paysage d’Hiver’s previous records were certainly dark, but the winter landscape articulated in Das Tor implies evokes inarticulable horror that’s ancient in its scope.
Certainly Wintherr is preaching to the choir with Das Tor, but for all his conservatism and stubborn reluctance to change the sound he established 10 records and 15 years ago, Paysage d’Hiver circa 2013 doesn’t come off as stale and senile as it has every reason to be. As winter comes and goes every year predictably and unchangingly, Das Tor exudes a similar kind of elemental, primordial familiarity. Paysage d’Hiver needs change like the seasons need changing – that is, not at all.